MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Janis, Triple 9, Princess, Wim Wenders, City of Women, Blood Bath, Human Tornado and more

Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue

GG Allin: Carnival of Excess

For as long as I can remember, someone has been trying to make a biopic about Janis Joplin. The closest anyone has come is Mark Rydell’s 1979 The Rose, which was loosely based on the Texas songbird’s troubled life, career and premature death to a heroin overdose nine years earlier. Because Joplin’s family wasn’t yet ready to commit to a specific Hollywood suitor, The Rose could only tease audiences with allusions to known facts. Since then, Lili Taylor, Pink, Zooey Deschanel, Brittany Murphy, Renée Zellweger, Amy Adams and Nina Arianda have had their names attached to film and theatrical projects that hit roadblocks along the way for similar reasons. The wait, in large part is over. Amy Berg’s comprehensive and legitimately affecting documentary, Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue, succeeds because she was granted the access the other hopefuls were denied. Still, it took eight years to complete. In addition to the rights to Joplin’s music and image, Berg gained access to friends, family members and music-industry sources who previously were limited as to what they could reveal to journalists and filmmakers. (Berg benefitted from cooperation with producer Peter Newman, who, for nearly 20 years, has held the rights to a treasure trove of Joplin material and still plans to make his own “Janis.”) Berg’s greatest coup, perhaps, was identifying musician Cat Power (as Chan Marshall) as the perfect person to read from the sadly revealing letters Joplin wrote home to her parents. On-screen interview subjects include her sister Laura, brother Michael, high school girlfriend Karleen Bennett, Kris Kristofferson (author of “Me and Bobbie McGee”), surviving bandmates from Joplin’s three bands, manager Julius Karpen, music mogul Clive Davis, D.A. Pennebaker (Monterey Pop), onetime boyfriend David Niehaus, hippie entrepreneur Chet Helms, talk-show host and friend Dick Cavett, and musicians “Country” Joe McDonald, Pink, Powell St. John (Mother Earth), Bob Weir, Melissa Etheridge and actress Juliette Lewis. That her singing style evolved through the years is evidenced in wonderful footage from shows in San Francisco, Monterey, Woodstock, Europe and Canada. And, of course, no bio-doc would be complete, or accurate, without a good deal of reflection on Joplin’s tortuous adolescence in Port Arthur, Texas, and lifetime obsession with pleasing her parents and convincing them of her success. Comparisons with Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning Amy, on the similarly tragic circumstances surrounding Amy Winehouse’s life and death, aren’t out of the question, either. The DVD adds featurettes “Big Brother Acapella,” “Avalon vs. the Fillmore,” “Influences” and “Walk of Fame Ceremony.”

Fans of the late punk provocateur GG Allin – and you know who you are – will relish the release of GG Allin: Carnival of Excess, a no-frills documentary filmed two years before his 1993 death to, guess what, heroin. If anyone was born behind the 8-ball, it was Allin. Named Jesus Christ Allin at birth by his screw-loose father, Merle, he was raised in rural New Hampshire, in a cabin with no electricity or running water. He lived under the constant threat of being killed by the joyless coot in a murder/suicide pact and buried underneath the floor boards. Finally realizing that she had married a dangerous lunatic, Arleta Allin took her two school-age boys to Vermont to recover some semblance of normality. To avert further damage, Arleta changed JCA’s legal name to Kevin Michael Allin. (GG became his nickname after older brother, Merle Jr., was unable to pronounce “Jesus” properly and called him “Jeje.”) Carrying that kind of baggage, it could hardly come as a surprise to his elders that their boy would turn to punk rock for refuge. His early influences included Aerosmith, KISS, the Stooges and New York Dolls, from whom he acquired an appreciation for cross-dressing. Later, GG’s stage act would become synonymous with violent self-abuse, transgressive music, scatological behavior and confrontation with spectators and police. In “Carnival of Excess,” GG performs proto-country songs on an acoustic guitar, sitting on the floor behind a coffeetable crowded with bottles of booze and beer, ashtrays and drug paraphernalia. The self-anointed Godfather of Scum Rock is surrounded by two women in stripper garb, gyrating to whatever it was that appealed to them about GG’s music. In between songs, some of which are pretty good, GG offers his opinions on a myriad of subjects, including life, death, touring and jail.

Triple 9: Blu-ray

Set in Atlanta, Triple 9 is a hyperviolent crime thriller cut from the same template as Michael Mann’s Heat. Where Mann’s L.A.-set drama combined narrative logic with explosive action, though, Triple 9 only offers superbly choreographed gunplay and chases. The lack of balance is likely the result of requiring proven Aussie director John Hillcoat – The Proposition, The Road, Lawless – to make do with a half-baked script by newcomer Matt Cook. In it, a gang of career criminals and corrupt cops is hired by Irina (Kate Winslet), the wife of an imprisoned Russian mobster, to break into a bank and steal a safe-deposit box that contains information that could overturn his conviction. Instead of paying the thieves, she gives their leader, Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor), another mission. This time, it involves breaking into an even less-accessible government office and stealing more data on her husband. An ill-conceived assassination of a crew member upends plans for the new job, providing a lead for boozy investigator Woody Harrelson to pursue. The title refers to the police code, 999, for an officer-down situation, requiring all available units to respond. The diversionary tactic doesn’t exactly work as planned, but only because the screenplay allows for such illogical developments to get in the way of the effective set pieces. If Triple 9 isn’t wholly successful, it’s not for any lack of star power supplied by supporting-cast members Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael K. Williams and Gal Gadot. The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes and a pair of short making-of featurettes.


From Israel, Tali Shalom-Ezer’s unflinching debut feature chronicles a disaster waiting to happen. That Princess plays out in an environment associated with academic and professional achievement — not, say, in a trailer park on the outskirts of Little Rock – begs questions that only occasionally are addressed in films outside the festival circuit. Still sexy and flirtatious at fortysomething, Alma (Keren Moris) is a nurse who shares an apartment with her unemployed teacher boyfriend, Michael (Ori Pfeffer), and a 12-year-old daughter, Adar (Shira Haas), from a previous marriage to a seemingly more grounded man, possibly a kibbutz worker. Adar is enrolled in a school for gifted students, probably in Tel Aviv, but rarely attends or does her homework. When confronted by the school’s principal, Alma is able to avert Adar’s expulsion by openly flirting with the defenseless administrator. When chastised by her noticeably embarrassed daughter, Alma defends her MILF-y behavior as an essential tool in fixing problems faced by modern moms. Neither does she hide her sensual impulses off-duty, at home, with the only too agreeable Michael. On the cusp of womanhood, Adar can’t help but be affected by their canoodling. Clearly needy, though, she even climbs in bed next to them when she can’t sleep. With nothing but time on their hands when Alma is at work, Adar and Michael engage in activities that would be considered to be playful if she was 5 and he was her father. Instead, before our eyes, their relationship crosses the border from questionable and ill-advised to creepy and potentially criminal. One afternoon, in order to escape Michael’s attention, Adar uses the time away from school to set out on a walkabout through the city’s teenage wasteland. It’s here she befriends an aimless 17-year-old boy, Alan (Adar Zohar-Hanetz), who, while noticeably taller, could be her twin. They even dress alike. Adar not only convinces her mother to allow the homeless youth to spend a few nights in their already cramped apartment, but also to share her bed in a non-sexual way. Even so, curiosity leads to some mild petting and limit testing. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Alan and Adar’s resemblance to each other – could he be her doppelganger, instead of merely a look-alike? — trips a switch in Michael’s hair-trigger libido. Can this childhood be saved? Stay tuned. Shalom-Ezer does a nice job keeping this potentially messy drama from spinning out of control and keeping her own opinions of her characters in check. The acting is terrific, especially Haas in her debut performance. It arrives with a making-of featurette.


City of Women: Blu-ray

By 1980, radical feminism had been eclipsed by the desire of young women to carve their own paths through life, unburdened by the demands of unenlightened men and stale political imperatives imposed on them by the editors of Ms. Magazine and women who still refused to shave their body hair. The thought of Federico Fellini revisiting the subject at this late date through the still-lascivious eyes of his cinematic alter-ego, Marcello Mastroianni, probably was greeted with the degree of indifference usually reserved for over-the-hill artists, athletes and actors in other disciplines. Curiosity, nostalgia and fan loyalty would be the likely deciding factors in determining the commercial fate of Fellini’s City of Women, at least outside Italy. Critics were mixed on its artistic merit and audiences indifferent. Thirty-five years later, divorced of lowered expectations and the landmines of politically correct thought, it’s possible to see the wildly extravagant fantasy in a different light. I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed City of Women, which could be considered a delayed sequel to . It opens in a crowded train, where Mastroianni’s Snaporaz will be lured into the tiny washroom by a woman (Bernice Stegers) whose physical attributes match those associated with the stereotypical Italian bombshells of the 1960s and giallo. Before Snaporaz can seal the deal, the train makes an abrupt stop, alerting the woman to its arrival at her appointed destination, which appears to be in the middle of nowhere. His enflamed libido demands that Snaporaz follow the unnamed woman through a meadow and into a forest, where a feminist convention is underway at a luxury hotel. Instead of minding his own business and returning to the train depot, Snaporaz decides to follow the scent of his seducer through a ballroom full of women of every known feminist variety, from lipstick lesbians and diesel dykes, to snuggle bunnies and commandoes in the battle of the sexes. Stumbling through the assemblage like Mr. Magoo at a strip club, Snaporaz finally comes to the conclusion that he’s been directed to the convention either for the amusement of the participants or to be devoured as the main course at a banquet. He accepts a ride from the hotel’s stout furnace tender, who takes him to a farm field with rape on her mind. After being interrupted, this time by the woman’s elderly mother, he connects with a car full of stoned teenage girls headed to a party at the estate of Dr. Xavier Katzone (Ettore Manni), a crazy libertine celebrating the occasion of his 10,000th sexual conquest. While wandering around the elaborately accessorized estate, Snaporaz meets his slightly inebriated ex-wife (Anna Prucnal) and a voluptuous woman (Donatella Damiani) he met roller-skating at the hotel. Things really get Fellini-esque, if you will, when Snaporaz discovers a portal into another fantasy world controlled by women, where his masculinity is judged. No need to reveal what happens next, but, be assured, it’s of a part with what’s preceded it. More than anything else, City of Women serves as a reminder of Fellini’s halcyon days, when a visit to his world was like a day at Disneyland on LSD. It arrives on Blu-ray with vintage French and Italian theatrical trailers; an interview with production designer Dante Ferretti; a new documentary film featuring producer Renzo Rossellini, film historian Aldo Tassone, producer and film historian Carlo Lizzani, and Federico Fellini’s assistant Dominique Delouche; and an entertaining interview with Italian director Tinto Brass, who compares his tastes in women with those of his friend, Fellini.


Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

Although the origin of the road movie genre generally is traced back no further than Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, Two-Lane Blacktop and Badlands, its roots can be said to extend to Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, Stanley Donen’s Two for the Road, Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night and TV’s “Route 66.” Admirers of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s “Road” pictures may object, but, except for The Road to Hong Kong, production was largely limited to the Paramount Studios lot. In less location-specific road and buddy flicks, the potential for adventure, romance, tragedy and a few good laughs existed around every curve on the road. Every stopover presented existential challenges to individual freedom. When the journey was over, some kind of emotional or intellectual growth could be expected of the protagonists. Looking back at the films included in the constantly surprising, “Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy” – made back-to-back in the mid-1970s, Wenders says, “The genre doesn’t quite have the same appeal anymore, mainly because everybody travels now. Traveling was once a privilege, and being on the road was a state of grace, and not that many people dared to take that liberty. But today, anybody can book a flight to the U.S. and rent a car or bike and go down Route 66 or feel like in Easy Rider.” That sentiment became especially cogent with the completion, in 1992, of the original Interstate Highway System, as envisioned 35 years earlier by President Eisenhower’s dream team. In many ways, today’s federal expressways are rivers of conformity, dictated by expediency and cookie-cutter chains of hotels, gas stations and restaurants. That wasn’t yet the case when Wenders brought his no-frills production crew to the United States to make the perfectly delightful Alice in the Cities, in which a German photojournalist is saddled with the supervision of a precocious 9-year-old girl after encountering her mother at a New York airport. In the U.S. to capture the “real America” on film, Philip Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) has decided to return to Germany to clear the writer’s block in his head caused by the disappointment of seeing how ghastly a vision that turned out to be. While trying to book a flight, he encounters a German woman (Lisa Kreuzer) and her daughter Alice (Yella Rottländer) doing the same thing. During the wait for their flight, which has been delayed by a strike, the three foreigners pool their assets for a hotel room and tour of the rapidly changing Manhattan. The next morning, mom hops in a cab and disappears into thin air. After returning to Europe, via Amsterdam, the innocent friendship between Winter and Alice grows as they travel together through various European cities on a quest for Alice’s grandmother. As is the case with most good road movies, their journey becomes one of growth and discovery. For audiences here, it opened our eyes to America as others saw us and a Europe that was still coming to grips with its own post-war visions. If viewers are reminded of similarly black-and-white buddy film, Paper Moon, starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, then 9, you wouldn’t be alone. Wenders nearly killed his own fully funded project after seeing Peter Bogdanovich’s film, but was talked into continuing with strategic alternations by Nicholas Ray, who couldn’t see the point of letting an approved budget go to waste.


Vogler returned a year later as the director’s alter ego in Wrong Move, a road picture that largely takes place on German rails and waterways. It is as dour as Alice in the Cities was bright. It chronicles six days in the life of Wilhelm, an aspiring novelist encouraged to discover what’s happening in his country by his mother, who gives him a ticket to Bonn. On the way, he becomes enchanted with the fleeting visage of an actress (Hanna Schygulla) staring back at him from a train running parallel to his. He’s shares his compartment with a pair of stowaways — an athlete in the 1936 Olympics (Hans Christian Blech) and his mute teen companion, Mignon (14-year-old Natasha Kinski, in her first screen role) – and a plump poet (Peter Kern) who insinuates himself into their conversation. Once off the train, Mignon performs acrobatics for loose change, while the older man – like the train conductor, a former death-camp guard — plays harmonica. In a serendipitous encounter, Wilhelm reconnects with the actress after interrupting a film crew shooting a scene nearby. The poet encourages the whole group to join him at a house owned by his uncle, situated on a bluff high above the Rhine. As beautiful as the location is, it’s mostly populated with ghosts representing the last 50 years of German angst. Adapted from a late-18th Century novel by Goethe, Wrong Move eventually finds Wilhelm on the Zugspitze, the highest mountain peak in Germany, to ruminate on where he’s been and where he might go. The same could be said of Wenders’ Germany.


In the nearly three-hour Kings of the Road, Vogler plays a traveling projection-equipment mechanic, Bruno, whose work takes him to villages along the East German border. Early on, he connects with a depressed young man, Robert (Hanns Zischler), whose Volkswagen had just disproved the theory that bugs float. Bruno’s circuit appears to allow for a day or two in each small town, as well as the occasional romantic encounter, which is more than enough for his needs. It also allows him to gain insights on life from the masters of American cinema, which Wenders injects into the narrative at strategic points. The two men don’t spend a lot of time conversing, but, when they do, its largely spent on their inability to form and maintain relations with women. There are several wonderful set pieces here, including one in which the two travelers entertain a group of impatient kids with shadow acting, as well as one of the most famously disgusting displays of a bodily function ever committed to film. There were other points in all three of these movies when I was struck by visual images that reminded me of Jim Jarmusch’s work, 10 years down the road. The common denominator being Robby Müller’s brilliant black-and-white cinematography. In addition to presenting upgraded versions of all three films, the bonus package includes the short films “Same Player Shoots Again” (1967) and “Silver City Revisited” (1968); archival audio commentary with Wenders and actors Vogler and Rottlander; discussions about Muller, author Peter Handtke and other influences; outtakes; Super 8 Footage; and a 48-page illustrated book featuring Michael Almereyda’s essay, “Between Me and the World”; Allison Anders’ essay, “A Girl’s Story”; James Robinson’s essay, “Utter Detachment, Utter Truth”; Nick Roddick’s essay, “Keep on Truckin'”; and technical credits.


The Abandoned: Blu-ray

I hope director Eytan Rockaway and writer Ido Fluk don’t get discouraged by the negative reviews in mainstream outlets for their debut feature, The Abandoned (a.k.a., “The Confines”). The genre press was far more forgiving and helpful in their criticism. Desperate to get her life back on track, the unstable Streak (Louisa Kraus) takes a job as a security guard, working the graveyard shift at a once upscale, now abandoned apartment complex, the lobby of which resembles Grand Central Station in the wee small hours. On her first night on duty, however, she discovers a horrifying presence lurking deep within the bowels of the decaying building. The entire security staff is comprised of Streak, who walks through the hallways every two hours, and the surly, wheelchair-bound Cooper (Jason Patric), who monitors the same territory from a deck of security cameras. Streak hasn’t even made it to lunch break when the heebie-jeebies set in and she begins hearing mysterious noises. The picture’s greatest asset is the labyrinthine network of hallways and seemingly empty rooms. Cooper has warned Streak to stay within her appointed rounds and not stray into areas that might contain secrets pertaining to previous tenants. Not only does Streak ignore Cooper’s warnings, but she also disobeys his order not to open the lobby door to a homeless man (Mark Margolis) and his dog, in dire need of shelter in a storm. It probably wasn’t a good idea on her part. If the building’s infrastructure wasn’t sufficiently creepy, Rockaway adds a faulty electrical system into the mix and enough jump-scares for a decade’s worth of Halloween haunted houses. Once the building’s deepest secret is revealed, however, the cheap thrills no longer retain the same ability to jolt viewers. Streak’s mission then becomes one of saving souls, including her own. The Abandoned could have benefitted from a bit more patience in the introduction of things that go bump in the night and some background on the building. Most critics were unhappy with the ending, but that’s almost par for the course for first-timers. It demonstrates the kind of promise that looks good on a resume. The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes and an alternate ending.


Blood Bath: Special Edition: Blu-ray

Psychic Killer: Blu-ray

There’s no better example of repurposing Hollywood film stock than Blood Bath, a movie that began its life as a highly stylized product of the mid-1960s Yugoslavian cinema – such as Tito allowed it to be – but ended it, several iterations later, as a cult classic with the indispensable Sid Haig playing a beatnik named Abdul the Arab. (Where’s Haig’s star on the Walk of Fame? Good question.) Naturally, Roger Corman, a filmmaker who actually could squeeze blood out of a turnip, is at the center of the story. Fifty years later, Arrow Video has released into Blu-ray all four versions of the movie in a single package, demonstrating what a determined producer can do when challenged by mediocrity. In 1963, while on vacation in Europe, Corman made a deal to distribute an unproduced Yugoslavian espionage thriller, “Operacija Ticijan.” For his $20,000 investment, he was able to insist that Operation Titian be custom-tailored for exhibition back home. Corman provided two cast members, William Campbell and Patrick Magee, who had appeared together for him in The Young Racers and protégé Francis Coppola’s Dementia 13. In addition, Coppola (not yet, Francis Ford Coppola) was installed as the production’s uncredited script supervisor. Corman deemed Operation Titian unreleasable, but not so bad that it couldn’t be redubbed, slightly re-edited and released to drive-ins as Portrait in Terror. (The names of the largely Yugo cast and crew were anglicized, as well.) Set entirely in then-exotic Dubrovnik, Operation Titian can be viewed as a strangely entertaining example of the German kriminalfilm subgenre of crime thrillers. Popular at the time, krimis were distinguished by almost accidentally arty production values, gothic settings and masked or obscured antagonists. Many of the films were based on the early-20th Century work of the prolific British journalist, novelist, playwright and screenwriter Edgar Wallace. In Operation Titian, Campbell plays a Dubrovnik-based artist who resembles Liberace and wields a spear-fishing gun. Patrick Magee plays a shadowy Italian art thief visiting the medieval seaport in pursuit of a Titian painting, also coveted by the artist. Also figuring into the plot are a blond American tourist (Anna Pavone), with earlier ties to the artist, and a Yugoslavian stripper (Linda Moreno). If the story makes almost no logical sense, it’s distinguished by Rados Novakovic’s (a.k.a., Michael Roy) decision to light the city’s ancient streets and buildings as if he were attempting to re-create Carol Reed’s The Third Man, substituting ageless Dubrovnik for post-war Vienna. No kidding … the city lends itself to just such an audacious conceit.


Audacious conceits aren’t what made Corman successful, however. To American-ize Operation Titian even further, he handed the picture over to Coppola classmate and rising exploitation specialist Jack Hill (Spider Baby) and fellow Corman protégé Stephanie Rothman (Terminal Island), who would turn it into the slasher picture with fangs, Blood Bath, and, later, the TV-ready Track of the Vampire. Hill filmed additional sequences in Venice, California, in order to match the original movie’s European look, and turned the former krimi into a horror movie about a crazed madman who kills his models and makes sculptures out of their dead bodies. Hill borrowed the bohemian milieu from the Corman-directed A Bucket of Blood (1959), which, itself, would lend sets to The Little Shop of Horrors, adding American actors Sid Haig, Jonathan Haze, Marissa Mathes, Lori Saunders, Sandra Knight and Biff Elliot. Blood Bath would strip much of the music and action from Operation Titian – including an international fishing competition – while maintaining many of the atmospheric, scenic and character-establishing elements. In doing so, it lost quite a bit of the original’s running time, which would then have to be replaced for the TV version in the form of exceedingly long chases and inexplicable dances. In doing so, Track of the Vampire imagines an undead artist (Campbell) who somehow is immune to bright sunshine and is capable of swimming underwater in a trench coat. It also adds a surrealistic beach scene, a chase with the vampire and beach bunny and an unintentionally hilarious confrontation between the beatniks and the vampire. Not surprisingly, then, the featurettes, essays and interviews that comprise Arrow Video’s extensive bonus package tell a story far more compelling than any in the four newly restored into 1080p versions of Blood Bath, Operation Titian, Portrait in Terror and Track of the Vampire. Among them are “The Trouble with Titian Revisited,” a new visual essay in which Tim Lucas returns to (and updates) his three-part Video Watchdog feature to examine the films’ convoluted production history; “Bathing in Blood with Sid Haig,” a new interview with the still-active actor; outtakes from Track of the Vampire, scanned from original film materials; double-sided fold-out poster, featuring original and newly commissioned artworks; reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford; limited-edition booklet containing new writing on the film and its cast by Peter Stanfield, Anthony Nield, Vic Pratt and Cullen Gallagher.


When Jim Hutton’s movie career began to sputter after co-starring in Walk Don’t Run, the 6-foot-5 actor turned to guest-starring roles in popular television series and MOTW’s. In 1975, Hutton returned to the big screen in Psychic Killer, a bargain-basement supernatural thriller destined for exhibition in drive-in theaters, where his name still meant something. In it, he plays the mentally unstable Arnold Masters, implicated in a murder he didn’t commit. While incarcerated in a mental facility, a fellow patient teaches him the tech niques of astral projection, which allows those who possess psychic powers to use their minds to control events far from where they are, seemingly unconscious. Before his fellow patient and mentor commits suicide, the older man clears the name of his protégé. Masters is bequeathed the amulet that triggers the effect and provides the perfect alibi he sets out to avenge his incarceration and death of his mother. Even when the police (Paul Burke, Aldo Ray), his shrink (Julie Adams) and a parapsychologist (Nehemiah Persoff) figure out how Masters’ enemies are winding up dead, they’re hard-pressed to make a case against a man under constant surveillance. Still, it’s inevitable. The most interesting thing about Psychic Killer, perhaps, is the PG rating it received, despite an amusing striptease, a nude shower scene (Mary Charlotte Wilcox) and the truly grisly death of a butcher (Neville Brand) after being attacked by a side of lamb hanging from a hook on an overhead conveyor … really. Today, it would be accorded an automatic R rating, but, back then, the board was far more lenient. Curiously, the geniuses at the MPAA never reconsider such clearly misguided ratings – one way or the other – when they’re attached to DVDs. Its concern for protecting family values and parental choice ends as soon as a movie opens and the tickets are counted. Psychic Killer was directed by character actor Ray Danton, whose sons and ex-wife appear in the featurette, “The Danton Force.” Other bonus material includes “The Psychic Killer Inside Me” featurette, with actor Greydon Clark; “The Aura of Horror,” with produce Mardi Rustam; marketing material; and reversible cover artwork. Look for a cameo by Della Reese.


The Human Tornado: Blu-ray

Hot on the heels of Vinegar Syndrome’s recent Blu-ray release of Dolemite comes Rudy Ray Moore’s follow-up, The Human Tornado. Of all the Blaxploitation titles, these might have been the most ghetto fabulous. The Dolemite character was an extension of Moore’s nightclub act, which rivaled Redd Foxx for its earthy qualities. The movies are set in the same sort of clubs, which feature a variety of acts designed to attracts pimps and their “bottom bitches” on their nights out on the town. In other words, the real show was in the audience. In The Human Tornado, a cartoonishly racist cop chases the entertainer out of his domain and back to L.A., where Queen Bee’s (Lady Reed) club has once again been taken over by the mafia. On top of that, the honkies have also kidnapped two of Queen Bee’s dancers. Dolemite rounds up the toughest kung-fu fighters in L.A. to take on Queen Bee’s enemies. As ludicrous and lopsided as the speeded-up confrontations are, they benefit from the loosey-goosey atmosphere that allows the background characters to maintain smiles and grins throughout the action. There’s plenty of skin and sloppy sex on display this time around, too. I don’t know how many more of Moore’s pictures VS intends to restore and release, but the character would re-appear in various iterations until just before his death, in 2008, at 81. Among the supporting-cast members are Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) and world karate champion Howard Jackson. The Blu-ray package adds “I, Dolemite II,” making-of documentary; “Der Bastard,” German dubbed version; a commentary track, with Moore’s biographer, Mark Jason Murray and co-star Jimmy Lynch; an audio interview with director Cliff Roquemore and martial arts champion Howard Johnson; original theatrical trailers for both Dolomite pictures; and original cover artwork by Jay Shaw.



PBS: Frontline: Saudi Arabia Uncovered

Of all the things we associate with life in Saudi Arabia, poverty isn’t one of them. We know that foreign laborers don’t enjoy the same rights and privileges accorded citizens, but it isn’t a problem unique to one country in the region. For as long as western democracies have allowed themselves to be dependent on an uninterrupted flow of oil to fuel their factories, automobiles and economies, the royal family and its inner circle have treated the world outside Saudi Arabia as its own private shopping mall and playground. The same government turned a blind eye toward the human rights abuses committed by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which patrols streets and malls to enforce a strict form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, now, along with oil, one of the country’s leading exports. Among other things, children are taught in Wahhabi schools that Christians, Jews and Shia Muslims are their enemies. Based on undercover video footage shot throughout the kingdom, the “Frontline” presentation “Saudi Arabia Uncovered” reveals truths about Saudi Arabia that should make viewers question the hidden costs of affordable oil and gasoline. When the royal family began to feel the pinch of reduced revenue from oil exports and the cost of battling insurgents in Yemen, they took it out on the people who were most likely to bring the Arab Spring to the Shia-dominated east of the country. On a single day at the start of 2016, the government executed 47 people, including a leading cleric, on all-encompassing terror charges. With clandestine footage, on-the-ground reporting and unique access to the cleric’s family (his 21-year-old nephew Ali is now on death row, sentenced to beheading and crucifixion), the documentary shows a side of Saudi Arabia rarely seen by the outside world. Along the way, the film follows key figures leading efforts to make change in Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi, a blogger who was imprisoned and sentenced to 1,000 lashes for posts critical of the government and Islam; and Loujain Hathloul, a prominent women’s rights activist who filmed herself driving in defiance of the kingdom’s laws and was arrested for the effrontery. “Saudi Arabia Uncovered” raises disturbing questions, most of which lack satisfactory answers, especially considering how badly we’ve blown previous attempts at sorting out divisions in the region.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon